The Saturday Kitchen – Shanghai Mooncakes with Lotus Paste

I have always had a weakness for traditional Chinese pastries, particularly those filled with lotus paste or red bean paste. But I always thought they were prohibitively complicated to make, until about a year ago when I rashly agreed to make some for a photoshoot and cookbook on mooncakes. That got me learning and practising how to make a variety mooncakes for months ahead of the shoot, and I realised that while it was a lot of work, it wasn’t too hard to tackle. Especially if one was not a novice at baking.

So this weekend, instead of taking a break on Labour Day, I decided to pull out that bag of lotus paste from the fridge and make a batch of Shanghai Mooncakes. This is my favourite, as it is relatively easy to make and rather more-ish. The pastry is cookie-like, crumbly and quite light — especially with the addition of custard powder — and makes a nice complement to the rich filling inside. This goes very nicely with a pot of Chinese tea. (On a side note, I have made this mooncake with a most untraditional filling of red bean paste mixed with crumbled Reese’s chocolate peanut bar and dessicated coconut. It was very successful, if I may say so myself.) Oh, and yes, I’m aware that today is not Saturday, but better bake than never! 🙂

Shanghai Mooncakes

  • Servings: 12 mini mooncakes
  • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
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90g butter, softened and cubed
30g sugar
1 Tbsp milk
120g self raising flour
20g custard powder
Small pinch of salt
200g lotus paste (store bought)
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp water

Method
1. Combine all the ingredients except for the lotus paste, and blitz into a dough.
2. Knead until smooth, then set aside to rest for at least 20 mins.
3. Meanwhile, divide the lotus paste into 12 equal portions and roll each into a ball. Set aside.
4. After the dough has rested, divide them into 12 equal portions as well.
5. Take one portion of dough and roll into a ball. Then roll it out into a flat disc using a rolling pin. I like to use the small Chinese rolling pin that cooks usually use to make dim sum.
6. Place one ball of lotus paste in the middle of the dough disc and wrap it up neatly, then roll between the palms of your hand until it forms a nice neat ball again.
7. Place on a tray lined with baking paper or silicone mat. Repeat until all is done.
8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 10 mins.
9. Remove from oven, brush over with egg wash, then return it to the oven for another 10-15 mins.
10. Take it out when they are beige as they will continue to darken once out of the oven.
11. Leave to *cool for 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

*Note: It’s important you let it cool a little before handling them as the pastry is very crumbly and fragile when it is still hot.

The Saturday Kitchen – Still in The Mood for Oat (Cookies)

 

I am still in the mood for oats. Apart from Yee Por’s elusive savoury oat porridge, I only like oats in cookie or bar form. I found a pack of oats in my baking supplies drawer yesterday and felt the need to bake them up before they reached their expiry date. This is an old, reliable recipe which I often use when the mood hits. They are hearty, chewy and goes best dunked in a cup of tea. Good for flushing out the excess cholesterol, as the doctor ordered, and with reduced sugar, it’s a healthier option than store bought. And it’s so easy to make, why even buy?

Reliable Chewy Oat & Raisin Cookies

  • Servings: 25-30 pieces
  • Difficulty: easy
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120g butter, softened
160g sugar (half brown and half white)
1 egg
2 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
120g self-raising flour
3 Tbsp dessicated coconut
Pinch of salt
200g rolled oats
3 Tbsp raisins

Method
Beat butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric beater until light and fluffy.
Then beat in the egg, water and vanilla essence.
Add in the flour, salt and dessicated coconut and mix gently until well combined.
Fold in the oats and raisins.
Plop spoonsful onto a lined baking tray and bake for 20 mins at 180C. Done!

 

The Saturday Kitchen – Old School Coconut Candy

I have been off blogging for a bit lately, being busy with my second book. Sorry if I have not popped in to read your blogs for a while now. (I will resume my visits, I promise!) However, most of the book is now done; almost ready to go to the printers except for some tweaking. Today, I finally have a bit of a breather, and I’m finally posting this, which I had been putting off since New Year’s Eve. My all-time favourite confection, coconut candy.

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Whenever the word ‘retro’ pops up, these coconut candies spring to mind. This, to me, is the taste of the ’70s. They are moist, flaky, milky and sweet, rich with coconut milk and crumbly with one bite.

The look and taste of it brings me back to my primary school days when coconut candies were invariably sold at school funfairs or other fund-raising events. Sometimes, my mother bought them for us when we went grocery shopping at the old Tay Buan Guan supermarket in Joo Chiat Road. It was a great supermarket — very modern and progressive for its time, which sold all sorts of British-made confections like dolly mixtures and liquorice in boxes, chocolate bars and honey-bake ham (which in 1970s Singapore were high end gourmet items). The supermarket ran a bakery as well, and it was there that she would buy these wonderful coconut candies. Commercially made ones like theirs tended to be drier and harder, but homemade coconut candy — like those we bought at school funfairs — were more moist and always delightful.

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They must surely originate from this part of the world. They are essentially compressed blocks of freshly grated coconut cooked with evaporated milk and butter, and fried and tossed in a pan until they were almost dry. (Desiccated coconut will not do — though perhaps they could be reconstituted. I have yet to try.) They had be coloured pink, or green — any other colours would not make them ‘coconut candy’.

I realised just recently that I have been making these candies on New Year’s Eve for the last two or three years. Quite unplanned, but it just reflects,  perhaps, an unconscious longing for a time past, a fun-filled childhood encapsulated in a coconut-filled mouthful. It’s always a hit among friends, and I have yet to meet a child who didn’t like them. They make great food gifts, too.
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1970s Old School Coconut Candy

  • Servings: 18-20 pieces
  • Difficulty: easy
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400g fresh grated coconut

200g sugar

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

A pinch of salt

Green or red food colouring

Method

  • Combine coconut, sugar and milk in a generously sized pot and heat it up over a gentle-to-moderate flame to melt the sugar and bring the mixture to a simmer.
  • Stir often to avoid burning, especially as the mixture starts to dry out. Stir in vanilla essence and salt.
  • Continue to heat until the coconut mixture comes away in dry clumps (they should be just damp enough to hold together in a ball, but not soggy) and leaves the bottom of the pot clean. This could take around 20 minutes.
  • When it’s ready, remove from the heat and stir in food colouring.
  • Spread it out on a pan, and pack it down tightly and evenly at about 3-4cm in height.
  • Using a spatula, make deep grooves into the warm candy without cutting through, to create a squares of candy. Mould the edges to neaten.
  • Set it aside to cool, then pop it into the fridge to set further overnight.
  • Cut out the candy according to the grooves you made earlier and serve chilled or at room temperature.

The Saturday Kitchen – Chewy Peanut Butter, Fruit & Nut Cookies

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Cookies, particularly chewy ones, are one of the most irresistible comfort foods I can think of. When it’s about 4pm, whether I am peckish or not, I must have a cup of tea and a cookie. It’s a small mid-afternoon treat and perks you up when your internal engine is slowing down.

I made this batch of cookies recently which combines every evil edible I like – raisins, nuts, peanut butter and chocolate chips. It’s so easy to do, and didn’t last long in the cookie container.

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Chewy Peanut Butter, Fruit & Nut Cookies

  • Servings: about 24 cookies
  • Time: 30mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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125g soft butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
120g brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
120g cup plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup raisins
100g walnuts or almonds (or a mix of both), chopped
100g dark chocolate chopped

Method
• Cream together butter, peanut butter and sugar until is fluffy and light. Then beat in the egg.
• Combine flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl and mix well.
• Add it to the dough, mixing well. Stir in the raisins, nuts and chocolates.
• Drop tablespoonfuls of the cookie dough on a baking sheet, and bake 180C for 12 mins or until golden.
• Remove from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

The Saturday Kitchen – What to do with dangerously ripe bananas?

 

 

How often are we left with a bunch of rapidly ripening bananas hanging from a hook in the kitchen? You look on in dismay knowing that by the next day, it would have tipped over its ‘use by’ date and you know you won’t be able to finish them on time.

But dangerously ripe bananas are great for baking. They are sweeter, and infuse the baked product with plenty of flavour. (A bonus is that you don’t need to use that much sugar either.) That’s when I like to make Jempur Pisang, a traditional ‘kueh’, or dessert which has its roots in Malay cuisine.

Jempur Pisang is incredibly easy to make and brings back nostalgic images of a simpler life in the kampongs (rural villages) of old Singapore. Housewives in the 1950s and ’60s liked to serve it as a mid-afternoon snack or for tea parties. They make a great addition to school lunchboxes, for any dessert or if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try to use them in place of profiteroles in a croquembouche.

Jempur Pisang (or Banana Puffs)

About 2 dozen

150 g self-raising flour
3 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
A pinch of salt
2-3 very ripe bananas, mashed (preferably *pisang raja though any ripe sweet banana would be fine)
50 ml water
Oil for deep frying

Method
• Combine flour, sugar, egg, salt and bananas in a bowl and mix well.
• Add in the water, a little at time, to form a moderately stiff (but still pour-able) batter.
• Heat oil until hot, then carefully drop tablespoons of the batter in and deep fry until golden.
• They float when they are cooked. (They continue to brown for a little while after they are removed from the heat so lift them from the oil a little before they take on the brown hue.) Drain on kitchen towels and serve as is, or dust with some powdered sugar.

*Pisang raja is a banana variety in Southeast Asia. The name is Malay, meaning literally ‘banana king’. Despite the grandiose imagery, these bananas are really petite little things, but stupendously sweet. These are my favourite.

Welcome to The Saturday Kitchen

In Blogging101, I had committed myself to a weekly food/recipe post every Friday. This was to instil some branding and discipline to my blog. While my fellow Blogging101-ers had already put that into motion, I have sadly lagged behind for two weeks. But today, I finally start!

Instead of Fridays, Saturdays work better for me. So welcome to The Saturday Kitchen, a weekly column of recipes, and food and ingredients I come across.

My recipes will be a mix of traditional Asian dishes, as well as my own hybrid creations which are easy to put together. I am not a great fan of toiling in the kitchen for days on end, like our Asian foremothers did. Easy, fun and creative is my usual style.

I’ll also explore the myriad ingredients in our markets, what they are and how to use them. Hopefully, I’ll add some recipes to accompany them as well. Singapore is a melting pot of many cultures and there are lots of fabulous ingredients we use which are not often written about — such as salted fish, dried octopus, belacan and gingko nuts, just to name a few. Hope you’ll join me for a fun, culinary adventure.

So, here goes — my first recipe.

Longan and Red Date Jellies With Osmanthus Syrup

Longan & Red Date Jellies
Chinese New Year is round the corner, so the occasion begs a Chinese recipe – preferably a sweet one to ensure  a sweet start to the Monkey Year.

The combination of dried longan and red dates is very traditionally Chinese. Add in some rock sugar (or ordinary white sugar), boil it up as an infusion and you get a lovely sweet, deep flavoured tea. I’ve taken this traditional combination and turned it into jellies, and used fish-shaped moulds to symbolise ‘good fortune’ and ‘plenty’. Just the thing for Chinese New Year.

Clockwise from left: dried longan, red dates, rock sugar (and ‘pong da hai’ which I did not use in the recipe after all)

12 dried Chinese red dates
12 dried longan
500 ml / 2 cups water
120g rock sugar (or 4 Tbsp white sugar) or to taste
5g agar agar powder (or 8g powdered gelatine)
Moulds that you fancy

Syrup (optional)
4 Tbsp sugar
120 ml/12 cup water
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp osmanthus flower

Method
• Rinse red dates and longan, and pop them into a saucepan with the water and rock sugar. (I usually start with freshly boiled water so it speeds up the infusing process).
• Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 1/2 hour.
• When done, turn off the flame and pick out the fruits. Discard the dates, chop the longans into little dice. Set aside.

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With boiling, the dried fruits swell up back to their original pre-dried size

• Slowly sprinkle the gelatine or agar agar onto the hot infusion and stir to dissolve.
• Bring it back to a boil for about 10 minutes, then turn off the heat.
• Drop some diced longan into each mould. Pour red date and longan infusion into jelly moulds and leave them to set. (You can serve it once it is set and chilled, or you can serve it with osmanthus syrup if you prefer it sweeter.)
• To make the syrup, combine the sugar, water and honey in a saucepan and dissolve the sugar over a medium flame. Add osmanthus and continue to stir for 15 minute over a low flame to reduce.
• When it’s thickened to a syrupy consistency, turn off the flame and leave it to cool.
• Serve the jellies chilled with some syrup spooned over.